ATHENS – A lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus was supposed to be gradual but many Greeks turned out in droves to get out of their homes after 43 days, leading the New Democracy government to contemplate a faster return to some kind of normal life.
That’s also tied to the now critical need to get the economy going again at the same time stringent health protocols remain in place and as the government has warned against being complacent in the fight to end the deadly pandemic.
While the first few days of people being allowed out of their homes and small stores reopening showed many practicing social distancing to stay at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart and wearings masks in places where required, a group of several hundred young people held an open air party to the consternation of police.
The government has pumped 17.5 billion euros ($18.95 billion) into the economy in the form of aid to workers temporarily laid off while the businesses for which they work had been closed, and also to the affected companies.
But with restaurants, taverns and hotels not set to open until perhaps June 1, the government is looking at letting them operate even sooner, said Kathimerini, and hopes to convince tourists to return in July, if international air traffic is back in force.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the industry needs a bounceback after fears it could fall as much as 52-70 percent and told CNN in an interview that the virus control will have to be strong enough to remove bans on travel to islands.
He’s trying to balance public health against the economy, with Greece having one of the best records in the world for dealing with the crisis, holding down the number of cases and deaths and earning wide acclaim.
A decision on the tourism and transport sectors will be made after May 15, when the epidemiological results of the first easing of lockdown measures will be available, the paper also said.
Restrictions on the mainland now look to be lifted on May 18, along with the resumption of flights around the country except for the islands, many of which depend on tourists for their economic survival.
In a cabinet video conference, he stressed that, “If we continue to move as we have done in the last month in terms of the pandemic, the opening of restaurants on June 1 is something absolutely achievable.”
DON’T BANK ON IT
During the conference, in which Bank of Greece Governor Yanis Stournaras and bank executives took part, Mitsotakis urged the institutions to pump liquidity into the economy although they are still chasing people to pay loans, mortgages and credit cards even if they can’t because of crushing austerity measures that saw big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and record unemployment during a near decade-long crisis.
Masks, a necessary accessory of the times, were visible everywhere, with widespread use by citizens and not only where mandatory, the paper said in a feature on people adapting to life with the lockdown being eased back.
There weren’t any reported problems on public transport which had been a key source of possible infections because of all the touch points, the virus easily transmissible on hands and faces.
So-called “Passenger Assistants” were at the main metro stations advising and urging passengers to observe safety measures while police were at bus stops to insure compliance with measures limiting the number of passengers on board, with empty seats between.
On buses and trolleys, a plastic divider separates the driver from passengers, who are not allowed to sit next to each other.
In metro carriages, of the 240 seats available, 120 can be used while ribbons have been placed in the intermediate seats so that passengers do not sit side by side.
“So far, everything is going well, passengers are wearing masks and people do not need much encouragement from the escorts that we have in place,” Stefanos Agiasoglou, the CEO of Attica’s bus and trolley bus operator, OSY told the paper.
But with people shying away from public transportation the roads were clogged again with cars, starting a reversal of cleaner air that was observed when people were mostly locked in their homes for nearly six weeks.
The partial lift of the lockdown began May 4 with the opening of small shops, including bookstores, stationery, computer and telecommunications and sports stores, florists, beauty salons, opticians and stores selling hearing aids.
The proprietor of a store selling stationary and supplies for school pupils told the paper that, “Some (customers) were more frightened – they rushed in, first checking how crowded the store was and whether people were wearing masks etc – others were more brave,” he said through his mask.